The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)’s Food Team works with food and beverage entrepreneurs, providing technical assistance to introduce innovative products to the market. And the stories of these entrepreneurs are as varied as the products. A few years ago, AURI assisted a stay-at-home mom in bringing her dream to reality.
Sara Hayden’s journey began in 2012 while seeking a return to the general workforce after dedicating 11 years to raising her children. After her mother passed away in 2011, Sara decided to carry on her mother’s passion and tradition of baking pies for those she loved. With the help of a friend who owned a local bakery, Sara was able to keep her mother’s memory alive and fulfill a dream she had since she was in her early twenties.
Sara initially baked pies for Thanksgiving, selling 250 pies the first year. After attending a local business seminar, Sara began to explore starting her own pie company and making her pies stand out. After stumbling upon beer pie, she created her own recipe and reached out to Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater, Minn. about featuring its beer in her pies. The rest is history. Rustic Pies of Stillwater LLC was founded, showcasing her mother’s pie crust recipes with a boozy twist. Rustic Pies originally offered large pies only, in a variety of flavors including apple, triple berry, pecan and pumpkin.
A HELPING HAND FROM AURI TO MEET GROWING DEMAND
A few years later, with growing demand for the boozy pies, the company rebranded as Sara’s Tipsy Pies to better reflect its marketplace differentiation, offering a variety of sweet and savory hand pies, tarts, and traditional pies–many infused with beer, wine and spirits. Sara soon decided to offer pies beyond her café and bakery, by packaging them for sale in grocery stores and markets.
Navigating the process of bringing a product to wholesale is a tricky transition for many food entrepreneurs. Sara contacted AURI and worked with Lolly Occhino, senior food scientist, and Jason Robinson, business development director-food. Occhino and Robinson assisted in professionalizing recipes into standardized formulas, provided guidance on ingredient sourcing and selection to meet clean label criteria and developed nutrition labels. In 2015, Sara’s Tipsy Pies launched at supermarkets across Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.
PIES WITH A PURPOSE
In February 2003, Sara and her husband Chris welcomed their second child, Madi, who was born with Down Syndrome. While navigating the challenges of raising a child with special needs, Sara became increasingly thankful for the many organizations assisting parents of special needs children, including The Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, Special Olympics Minnesota and Valley Friendship Club of Stillwater.
Because of the wonderful support she and Chris received, Sara decided to honor that kindness by paying it forward. In March 2014, Sara’s Tipsy Pies launched its “Pies with a Purpose” campaign, donating a portion of the proceeds from pies made with Finnegans beer to The Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, among others. Finnegans Brewing Company is the world’s first beer company to donate its profits to charity. Proceeds of wedding pies made with Finnegans beer also support the cause.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
While Sara’s Tipsy Pies was able to generate
substantial revenue in the wholesale market, Sara made the difficult decision to pull her product from store shelves due to the high cost of production and low profit margin. Despite the setback, the business is thriving, and Sara and her staff can focus more on its café and wedding and catering ventures.
“Having the time to be more purposeful makes my staff’s and my life more manageable,” Hayden says. “I now own a business and it doesn’t own me.”
Today, Sara’s Tipsy Pies Bakery and Café in Stillwater, Minn. offers pies, tarts, cookies, high-end pastries and fresh brewed coffee. The company also sells pies and pastries to other local businesses, including Howard’s Bar, Green Bridge Café, Tossed LLC, Apple Crest Farm, and at the Minnesota State Fair.